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Bulls vs. Pelicans preview and thread: no DeRozan for road matchup

a must-win game?

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NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Your Chicago Bulls head to New Orleans to face off against a competitive Pelicans club tonight.

Chicago is looking to rebound from an abysmal 126-98 loss to the Bucks on Tuesday and and what has been an up-and-down week so far. With a 42-30 record on the season, the fifth-seeded Bulls are currently just two games ahead of the seventh-seeded Raptors as they look to avoid a fall into the play-in tournament this year.

A major deterrent to a Chicago win tonight will be the absence of the Bulls’ best player DeMar DeRozan, ruled out with a left adductor strain. The 13-year vet will miss just his fifth game of the 2021-22 season, and only 2nd for non-COVID reasons.

Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago writes that the metrics bear out DeRozan’s big impact on the team’s offensive performance. With DeRozan on the hardwood, Chicago boasts an offensive rating of 113.1 points per 100 possessions. With DeRozan riding the pine, that number drops to a 104.3 offensive rating, which for the whole season would match the mark of one of the league’s three worst teams.

Chicago will have to lean on its other starry scorers, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, to step up with DeMar down. Sharpshooting reserve combo guard Coby White could see a notable minutes uptick, too. How head coach Billy Donovan chooses to respond in the starting lineup remains a mystery as of this writing. Alex Caruso has replaced Ayo Dosunmu as the Bulls’ starting point guard, but both players have the size and strength to theoretically jump at either guard spot should Donovan opt to return Dosunmu to the starting lineup. LaVine could slide over to the starting small forward spot. Alternately, Donovan could keep Dosunmu on the bench and go bigger in the front court, starting Williams at the four and sliding Javonte Green down to small forward.

On the other side, Calling the 30-42 Pelicans “good” might be a bit of a stretch, but the team is currently jockeying with the Lakers for the ninth seed in the West’s play-in tournament bracket and has been at least a feisty out recently. New Orleans is 4-6 across its last 10 contests, but still have salvaged their season somewhat following some pretty bizarre Zion Williamson health drama. Since trading for high-scoring shooting guard C.J. McCollum at the February deadline, the team has gone a solid 8-9 (7-8 in games with McCollum). McCollum’s leadership and offensive heroics seem to have been a big reason why. McCollum is scoring 26.1 points for the Pelicans on 20.3 shots (50.6% shooting from the floor), along with chipping in 6.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds. Another silver lining to this Zion-less season: New Orleans seems to have drafted a 2021 second-round steal of their own in defensive-oriented forward Herb Jones, selected with the No. 35 pick out of Alabama.

In a bit of a tit-for-tat break the Bulls way, Brandon Ingram will miss tonight’s game with a hamstring injury. Combo guard Devonte Graham is now starting in the back court alongside McCollum.

A jumbo-sized Bucks front court managed to give the Bulls fits on Tuesday. The Pelicans play pretty big too, starting 7’ Jonas Valanciunas alongside 6’11” Jaxson Hayes. And Jones, at 6’8” and 210 pounds, is actually bigger than both Javonte Green and Patrick Williams.

The Bulls need to take advantage of tonight’s opponent. The Pelicans are really bad without Ingram, going 5-17 in the games he’s missed. This is part of five straight winnable games from now through next Thursday.

Injury Report:

As mentioned, DeMar DeRozan will sit tonight, but Zach LaVine is going to play even while being listed in the injury report every game for managing his knee injury.

For the Pelicans, the loss of Ingram is huge but they are getting a substantial return game as Larry Nance Jr., who has yet to suit up since joining the Pelicans at the trade deadline due to a right knee scope, is available.

Game Time:

7 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago

Odds:

The Bulls are listed as 3.5-point underdogs tonight, undoubtedly Vegas sees the DeRozan absence being a much bigger deal than the Ingram one. The over/under set for the cumulative game score is 224 total points. (All info via DraftKings. Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.)